I still vaguely remember the first time I got drunk on some strawberry flavoured home-brew of unknown alcohol content at a friends house around 16 or 17.

Disgusting stuff leaving me with a pounding head ache and feeling like death the following day.

Just like my first cigarette, I worked through that initial feeling of being poisoned to build up a dubiously respectable habit.

College and Uni social events were always helped with a few beers, or a few pre going out drinks....I'm more of an introvert type than extrovert and alcohol always helped take the "edge" off social events.

beer sign
Photo by Jon Tyson / Unsplash

On the career treadmill, and drinking alcohol had grown from something social to something I was finding myself doing every day after work.

I first thought I'm probably drinking more than I should at about 22 or 23 years old but both my family and my girlfriends family drank, people I worked with drank, at the time it didn't seem that out of place to be drinking everyday.

During my late 20's / early 30's I moved onto wine.

Better on the waist line than the equivalent units of beer I thought, typically having one or two bottles most if not every evening.  

Looking back I was probably drinking a respectable 100 - 120 units a week depending on whether we went out at the weekend / during the week, which we pretty much always did, several times each week.

Only a few times over the government recommended limits.

Not as jaw dropping as some stories but still a fairly terrifyingly impressive level.

Drinking never really felt like it got that much in the way of my career / life.

I was lucky to have good, interesting, well paid jobs with good companies. Sure there were times when I was at work quite probably smelling slightly like a brewery from the night before, but I did OK. Moving up the corporate ladder, getting pay rises, and all the stuff that goes with that life.

Yes I had my fair share of drink powered f*&k up moments, not necessarily at work, but plenty of things I cringe at now.

But that's all history and I can't change the past.

Fast forward 10 ish years:

I'm early 40's - and I feel I'm leading a pretty good life, my drinking has reduced, but I know I've been drinking more than I should for about 20 years.

Alongside my wife we're now running a couple of (very) small businesses and raising a young family.

I'm not at a point where I think drinking is massively impacting my life (or maybe it's me not admitting to it...). I'm always up at around 4-5am and out working after a couple of coffees keeping the businesses ticking over in fairly good health, not spending as much time with the kids as I should, but always around for them when needed.

... but I'm aware:

  • my thoughts aren't as clear as they could be,
  • mornings feel hard work at times (most of the time),
  • the calories consumed via the beers aren't doing my body shape any good,
  • unknown, but certainly not positive, impact on my organs,
  • I'm not as present as I could and should be with personal and business decisions and issues.

It's been a growing niggle for the past few months / years - it's time I changed my relationship with alcohol.

I've tried moderation in the past.

Restraint after a couple of beers is hard.

Clock watching ...

"this beer has to last me until 7.15pm, this one until 8, this one until 8.45"

... and so on.

That kind of worked but it wasn't exactly an easy, enjoyable or productive way to change behavior.

I've tried substitution starting off the evening with some Shandy's or 0% beers.

It was then a reward when 9pm arrived and I allowed myself a couple of beers before bed.

... and then 9pm became 8.30pm which became 8pm

... and the 2 Hobgolins became 3 Hobgolins became 4 became more.

Time to change habits.

I dread to think how many litres of Hobgolin and Marstons IPA I've drunk over the past few years.

In fact, guessing at an average of 4 cans of Hobgolin and a bottle of Marsons IPA most days it's probably about:

(2 ltrs hobgoblin * 365 ) + (0.5 ltrs IPA * 365) = approx 912 ltrs / year ... amazing achievement... yay me :o)

Probably in the region of 70-80 units a week, slightly better than 10 years ago but still not great, and close to 40% of my recommended daily calories consumed with beer.

Pretty impressive achievement if I do say so myself. Luckily my work is fairly active so I burn most but not all of it off.

But counting calories and units are a bit of a digression.

My motivation is more about clarity of thought, general health and wellness and not wasting so much money numbing my mind to reality.

So I'm using #dryjanuary as a bit of a catalyst to help me reset my mindset around alcohol - along with lots of others, I'm going to quit drinking for January.

I have no intention of never drinking again, but I do intend to be a bit more sensible and considered about how and when I drink rather than it just being something I mindlessly do everyday.

I'm hoping having a Dry January will help me reset my habits.

Week 1

https://alcoholchange.org.uk/blog/2019/benefits-of-dry-january-and-when-you-can-expect-to-see-them

As I write this we're on day 7, which means I've done 6 evenings with no alcohol - the longest streak of no alcohol I've had in about 20 years.

So far so good.

Over the past few years, my beer pang/craving point is always around 5-7pm when I come into the house from work and we then get into the process of getting the kids to bed.

Thankfully I've never been a whisky on my cornflakes to start the day kind of guy so it doesn't enter my mind until late afternoon.... other than "I really shouldn't drink tonight" echoing through my head virtually every morning.

This week there have been a couple of days when the cravings have been really strong - kids playing up, bad day at work, the usual stuff.

Reminding myself (or my wife reminding me) that the beers don't really change anything, and in fact generally make things worse and more difficult to deal with has got me past them ...

....plus distracting myself by helping kids with something / reading / mindless gaming (our kids are very much into minecraft ... those adventures are possibly the topic for another post)

... and lots of pints of sparkling water over the course of the evening - I've got past the pangs.

I think they're getting weaker already.

Once I'm at about 7.30pm it's pretty much the home straight before bed....just reading / watching Netflix / staring at business spreadsheets / usual sort of stuff...but without the beers clouding my mind.

I'm feeling a lot more alert in the mornings. That came after just a couple of days.

Sleep is possibly improving...not sure. Due to my early starts I'm fairly tired by 9 or 10 pm, so not too difficult going to sleep and in theory I should be getting better quality sleep.

Something that I'm sure has helped this process: about 9 weeks ago my wife and I started trying to get back into jogging/running.

It's something I used to do when I was much younger .... and a fair bit lighter....I'm about 6ft and 15 stone... not that fat (for early 40's I tell myself), but carrying a bit more emergency fuel around my middle than ideal.

We downloaded the couch to 5k app that has a selection of BBC DJ's offering motivation comments through a fairly simple training program to get you from nothing to running for 30 mins.

It's been a really good program and we're now around week 9. So having gone from 60 second jogs with 90 second walks repeated for 30 mins I'm now just starting to jog for a full 30 mins, which is an achievement I'm quite pleased with.

I kind of want to call it running, but if a real runner saw me I'm sure they'd pull a pained expression and sharply inhale through clenched teeth at my technique...so I'll settle with jogging.

The old fellow that works on the farm just laughed at me when I told him I'd started jogging.

Miserable sod told me to leave the quad bike in the shed and just walk around my farm jobs....which is a fair point, I guess....but I'm slightly scared from being made to chase cattle around fields as a child.

They're faster and way stronger than you....but those dastardly bovines can't outrun the quad bike.

Anyway, the reason for mentioning all that is that I'm fairly sure my slightly improved health from the jogging has helped my frame of mind about changing my drinking.

Dry January wasn't even something that entered my mind back in early November when we started jogging, but I'm fairly certain that the two have come together and help build on each other, a happy coincidence.

Summary at end of week 1 - some awkward pangs, pleased I've made it this far, generally feeling a bit better but not hugely noticeable - saved a few quid, and calories ... fingers crossed for the next few weeks.

Good luck if you're doing similar, or if you're considering it... you can do it!  

I'd highly recommend it (obviously if you're drinking very heavily talk with your GP...I'm no expert) but if your consumption was anywhere similar to me, so far I'm finding the pangs short and they pass pretty quickly ... at least that's what I keep telling myself .... there's a lot to gain from even just a month of quitting drinking ... fingers crossed I make it to the end of Jan and beyond.

Week 2

So it's the 16th of Jan now, over 2 weeks with no alcohol.

As with anyone's life there were some ups and downs during the week:

Some big cravings:

Really difficult calving with a heifer (first time mum) on day 7, heartbreaking feeling that the calf was alive several times while monitoring her and then the calf dying while I'm trying to help her calve it ... maybe I should have intervened earlier, maybe I should have left her longer, maybe I should have called the vets, maybe the bull that's her father isn't throwing easy calving daughters (and OMG have I got more of these to deal with...), maybe it was a diet thing and she was too fat, so many things run through your mind when something like this happens. But every cow and situation is different, so you just try and make the best decisions based on experience ... when finished and washing down I really wanted a beer (about 8.30pm) ... by the time I got back in the house I was just mad about it all, so had a shower and some sparkling water, watched a couple of outdoor type people on YouTube and called it a night .... in the past I'd have sunk a couple of beers to numb the pain of losing that calf ... sometimes you try to do all the right things and it still goes against you ... but that's life ... beer won't change it.

Day 9 - strong pangs after a conversation late in the afternoon with someone from the local council planning department about something that we wanted to do with an old barn on the farm.... restrictive annoying rules not allowing me to do what I want, haha. A couple of weeks ago I would have sunk a few beers to numb the annoyance... but instead sparking water, a couple of conversations and a bit of research and we might have some alternative options to pursue, which is a good thing and something the past me might not have arrived so quickly / at all with the beer buzz.

Possibly feeling more tired in the evenings I think, mostly due to my silly start time... but much more awake in the mornings.

Completed the couch to 5k program (morning of day 10). 9 weeks of running / jogging 3 times a week ... yay me.

Although I'm not quite doing 5k in the 30mins, my watch told me it was 4.23k...  only 800 ish meters short assuming the watch is vaguely reliable, which at £25 from Amazon is perhaps optimistic. Hopefully I can up the pace a little over the next few weeks.

Over the course of the week I watched the Adrian Chiles BBC documentary about his drinking habits - really interesting seeing and hearing his thought process about his habit - I'm sure there's a huge chunk of society that are similar.  

I also found a couple more twitter accounts to read and podcasts to listen to - mostly linked to in the section at the bottom of this page. I'm finding it really interesting hearing other peoples stories about stopping drinking. From people that drank both more and less than me, it's incredible realizing how many people were in a similar situation.

No cravings!

Around day 14-15 the 5pm cravings all but disappeared. I'm not imagining they won't come back, or that I won't ever get a craving again, but it's been an unexpected and welcome development.

Rather than getting a fairly strong craving and really having to think about beating it / distracting myself, the last couple of days it's been more a vague "oh I'd usually have a beer about now..." quickly followed by "but I'm not drinking today".

Forgotten about in a few seconds rather than (what feels like) a few minutes thinking about it.

I'm sure there will be other situations that trigger cravings for the old habit, but for now maybe my brain is re-wiring a little?

Anyway, pleased I'm at the end of week two going into week three.... waiting on the weight just falling off me and an immense improvement in concentration / thought process so I can write better blog posts ... maybe next week ;)

Week 3

Three weeks without any drinks, pretty pleased with myself.

If someone had told me I'd be doing this two months ago I'd have thought they were mad.

Again it's been an up and down week - but I feel there's certainly more up than down now.

This week we have our annual full herd TB test. It's not a pleasant experience for man or beast, but it has to be done to make sure the herd is clear of TB. Yet another controversial farming topic, but it is what it is.

We've been clear for 3 years so I'm praying we don't have any cows that have to be taken away this time around. Fingers crossed / touch wood for Thursday which is reading day when we find out if any of the cattle have reacted to the test.

The weekend before TB test week and the cravings are back (day 18-19 ish) ... with force!

I think it was probably just knowing I had a bit of a nightmare week to look get through. Saturday and Sunday were full of "wouldn't a beer be nice this evening" thoughts.

Literally stood in the shower at 8 in the morning ... "go on, a beer would be nice this evening".

As mentioned I'd never think about having a drink until the end of the day and there I was having beer thoughts from early ish in the morning and then every 3-4 hours the same thought would pop into my head.

There's gin and red wine in the house which has zero appeal. It's a nice bottle or two of IPA that I'm craving at times.

I guess I've built up a bit of will power / ability to reason with these thoughts.

At the time of writing I'm now 21 days / 3 weeks without a drink, and feeling 99.9% confident I'll be doing the full 31 days of January without any alcohol.

I'm generally feeling pretty good ... for a slightly grumpy, antisocial, early 40's old git.

Carried on jogging 3 times a week even though I've finished the couch to 5k plan, which gives me some good chemicals for my brain.

I'm much more motivated to get on with stuff that I want to do, such as (working toward) being a better writer, hopefully my random assembly of words on a page will improve with practice, getting back into doing a bit of coding, building other websites, reading lots more ... it's awesome, I'm really enjoying having a clearer mind in the mornings and evenings.

Something that I'm finding quite mind boggling is that the try dry app is telling me I've not consumed over 20,000 calories, in 21 days!

That's insane.

Even if it's only vaguely close to being correct, which I'm sure it is - it's roughly 8-10 days worth of the average daily recommend calories not consumed in just 21 days due to quitting drinking.

If I'm not looking like one of those blokes on the cover of a Men's Health magazine in a couple of weeks I want a refund :))

It really feels like some good progress now and I'm having a few thoughts about what I do at the end of January.

Currently I think I will have a couple of beers.

I'm well aware some people will say there's no such thing as just one beer and to embrace sobriety long term. Personally I'm torn. I don't think there's much wrong with a few drinks occasionally as long as it's in moderation / not every night / etc / etc ...

but can I be that person, have I got the right mindset?

From past experience the answer is quite probably no.

I don't want to throw away the progress I've made during this month. I'd be really annoyed with myself if I slipped back into having a few beers every evening in the future.

I'm thinking I will not drink during the normal work week with perhaps a couple of beers one or two evenings at the weekend ... but even as I'm writing this I'm wondering if it's sensible ...

I don't want to get into a weekly cycle of fighting off beers until the weekend and then having several one evening and waking up feeling rough just because it's the weekend - I'm enjoying my "clear headedness" in the mornings too much.

Weekend drinking sounds like I will be creating a reward cycle habit waiting for Friday evening every week, and then rewarding myself with a few beers because it's the end of the week.

I can see what starts being Friday and Saturday evenings will easily extend to include Thursday and Sunday and you see where that's going ... a slippery slope to a habit I don't want to recreate.

I guess something to think about more over the next 9 days.

Week 4

28 days down. I've stuck with it, and am feeling good.

As with the other weeks, there have been a several times where I've thought I'd love a beer, but those cravings have disappeared really quickly.

We passed our annual TB test last week. A huge relief.... something I would have previously celebrated with a couple or more beers.

An annual review with the Bank Manager ... after which I would have normally had a few beers in the evening to wind down.

The guy I employ is having a week off so I have to rush around doing all the work on the farm for a few days on my own ... and to be perfectly honest I don't enjoy much of the day to day jobs on the farm, (if money was no object a lot could and will be automated... but that's another topic) so I pay for additional labour to help ...  I'd normally drown my sorrows with a few beers at the end of the day ... which of course makes the next day even more painful.

None of those things have lead me to a beer over the past 7 days.

I'm generally feeling really positive about a lot more things in life. That slight shame and anxiety the goes with drinking is lifting.

That said, occationally I've noticed this weird thought process running through my head: that in stopping drinking I've lost something - I've lost that cue/reward cycle of having a "lovely" beer at the end of the day.

The logical part of my brain knows that I've not lost anything. I've stopped doing something that was dragging me down and holding me back from achieving goals.

My health, wealth and happiness is improving.

It's funny seeing how these habits try to drag you back to what they/your brain were used to.

My brain feels like it's going into hyperdrive at times ranging from changes I can make to the businesses to try and improve our profitability, ideas about other little side projects I can try and build up to see whether I can find any "product market fit" as VC's types call it, and reading much more interesting stuff rather than mindless social media scrolling.  

Sadly my writing ability hasn't leap forward in 4 weeks but I guess that's something that may come with time and practice :)

As the month draws to a close I'm 100% sure I'll stay dry for the next few days.

I'll probably have a couple of beers on the 1st of Feb, but I'm enjoying having a much clearer mind so intend to continue being fairly dry for the forseeable future.

Post January

Final update to this post...for the foreseeable future :)

It felt weirdly sad that Dry January had come to an end. It felt like a shame to have a drink having done the month without any.

However, I had a couple of bottles of IPA on (Saturday) the 1st of Feb.

I really felt the alcohol numbing my body and brain. I stopped at two.

Didn't drink for the rest of the following week until Friday and then had a couple of cans of beer (it really was just 2) on the Friday and Saturday evenings (plus a small glass of wine .. which I'm really really annoyed about.

It's served as a serious warning to me - will power is weak after a couple of beers.

That was Saturday and it's now Wednesday, I've not drunk since but I'm still annoyed that I had that wine a few nights ago!)

It's February the 12th and I've had 2 bottles of IPA, 4 cans of Hobgoblin and a small wine since the 1st of January - about 18-20 (UK) units in 6 weeks I guess.

Whilst not as impressive as all the 100% sobriety people I follow - I'm happy with that.

Really pleased the past 6 weeks have made a big change in my thinking about alcohol.

At very least I'm currently much more mindful about when and how I drink.

Having a much clearer mind is brilliant - the mornings after even a couple of beers are noticeable.

I know some will say or be thinking I could slip back to my old ways without going 100% sober ... and yes it's possible ... but it's something that I have no intention of letting happen.

At this point I'm enjoying my 100% sober days much more than the days after 2 beers.

Currently I'm more likely to go toward 100% sober than back to the dark side :)

Additional Resources

Some resources I've read / listened to that have helped through the month and me re-frame my thoughts about drinking:

Twitter:

@dryjanuary - there's some great stuff on their twitter account. I've installed the app for a bit of motivation seeing the dry days stack on a calendar format. More valuable to me is that they regularly tweet blog articles to help remind you of the reasons and benefits for giving this a go. I've found reading other peoples stories helpful and motivated me through cravings ... well worth a dig around their website

#dry2020 and #dryjanuary - more motivating posts from others doing the same...just need to ignore all the clever people joking on the tag about dry white wine / dry gin / not drinking any water / your local pub needs you etc ;) ... but there's still motivational stuff in among the noise.... and I found by the middle of the month the jokes on the tag dropped off a bit and it was mostly people just talking about their progress.

Over the course of this process I also found a few other twitter accounts / hashtags that I've found interesting to read:

@thepublandlady

@SobrietyMatt

plenty of others I've missed here and will try to add over time... or get in touch if you'd like to be added :)

#recoverposse

Podcasts:

https://thisnakedmind.com/category/podcast/ - Annie Grace podcast, she also has a book (I've not read it so can't comment - but I've heard good stuff about it) - interesting episodes covering interviews with people who have quit alcohol and their motivations, to episodes sharing her practical knowledge of alcohol and how it effects you.

Soberpod - I've only listened to a couple of episodes...but interesting if you're looking for related podcasts.

Other:

https://www.alcoholexplained.com/1st-5-chapters/ - interesting and useful chapters from a book explaining what alcohol does to your body and mind.  I read this during the first few days of January.

There's a million and one blogs about people taking this journey...so I guess I'm just adding to the noise publishing this, but reading and hearing about other peoples thoughts helped me. It helps confirm you're absolutely not alone... there's plenty of people from all walks of life that feel, or know, they're perhaps drinking more than ideal. Excess alcohol consumption (from fairly minor to v significant) is something that's widespread in our western world and nothing to be ashamed about.

Here's a few blogs that I've read bits of:

Cupofjo

Girlandtonic

there are lots of medium articles

and reddit forums

If you've made it to here, thanks for reading. I hope my ramble about my experience of Dry January was of some help and interest.

If you're thinking of doing the same, you're not alone - there's loads of support available to help you change your mindset about alcohol.